Edmund Rice Trust School site selection

DAIL DEBATES OCTOBER 18TH

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress made in identifying a site for the new regionally based secondary school for Carpenterstown, Castleknock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42126/18]

Deputy Joan Burton

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him well. What progress, if any, has been made in identifying a site for the new regionally based secondary school for Carpenterstown, Castleknock? Can the Minister tell parents who are suffering major anxiety where exactly the school will be located?

Minister Joe McHugh

As the Deputy is aware, the school to which she refers is included in my Department’s six-year construction programme. The acquisition of a suitable site is required to facilitate the project. With the assistance of officials in Fingal County Council under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites, a number of site options were identified. They were comprehensively assessed and a preferred site option has been identified. Negotiations with the landowner on the proposed acquisition of the site are ongoing. The Deputy will appreciate that negotiations on school site acquisitions can be complex and price is only one of multiple aspects which need to be agreed. Nonetheless, officials are working to bring matters to a conclusion at the earliest possible date. Owing to commercial sensitivities in site acquisitions generally, the Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position to provide further details at this time, but I can confirm that the school patron is being kept apprised of developments in the site acquisition process. In the interim, since September the school has been based on a temporary basis at the former Institute of Horology property on Mill Road, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

Deputy Joan Burton

I have raised this school site issue with the Minister’s predecessor repeatedly in the past two years and, essentially, he has given me the same explanation again, namely, that it is all secret because of the negotiations taking place. Parents are very anxious. Those involved in the feeder schools in the area, including the staff and the boards of management, are also very anxious and deserve a better answer than what the Minister’s officials have given him today. To quote his Department, this new secondary school was identified as a regional solution in second level provision in Dublin West. That meant that two school planning areas were combined, namely, Carpenterstown and Castleknock, in providing an additional much-needed second level school. It is a huge area which stretches from the Phoenix Park to the border with County Meath and County Kildare. The selected patron is the Edmund Rice Trust. The new Edmund Rice Trust co-educational college is now in its second year of operation in premises at the old watchmaker school – the Institute of Horology – located beside Connolly hospital. It was hosted last year by Le Chéile secondary school and now has 60 students. Without progress in identifying a permanent site and location for the school, it may be inhibited in its development.

Minister Joe McHugh

Unfortunately, as the Deputy rightly pointed out, I am not in a position to offer the clarity the parents want. However, we have a new system in place under a memorandum of understanding between the Department and local authorities which act on behalf of the Department in negotiations. I have no doubt that that the Deputy raising the matter publicly in the House will focus the minds of officials in Fingal to ensure a speedy resolution of this matter. I reiterate that the local authorities act on behalf of the Department in negotiations on the acquisition and purchase of land.

Deputy Joan Burton

I again emphasise that provision of the school is very welcome. It will be a very good school. I have met many of the first-year students and know many of the students who have enrolled in second year. By and large, the parents would like the school to be located in Castleknock. We know that there is a site which was earmarked originally for the provision of a primary school at the old Phoenix Park race course. There are potential sites in other parts of Castleknock. The population of the area is expanding rapidly. Therefore, this is a critical issue for parents.

As the principal outlined to me, the number of applications received for next year has increased dramatically compared with the first two years. If this were to continue, we would have to seriously restrict numbers for 2020 if the school was still on the institute of horology site on the Mill Road beside Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. This school was created to ease the numbers situation in Dublin 15 for secondary schools. We just need to get on with it.

Minister Joe McHugh

I am sorry for repeating myself but the site acquisition process is complex, as the Deputy knows. It is subject to completion of successful negotiation and conveyancing processes. Given the complexities involved, I am not able to give a timeframe for the completion of acquisition today and I would be disingenuous in doing so. I and my officials will endeavour to bring the process to a conclusion as soon as possible. I understand the frustration on the part of parents, young teenagers and younger children who are looking forward to a new school. This is something that I am very conscious of.